Almost every conversation about my work includes "how did you get started doing that?" and I LOVE telling them that hosting people in my home is what makes me the happiest! My Cinco de Mayo party this year was the start of a new season of hosting friends in my home after a year-long break. I shifted my focus from "just for fun" events to "fun work events" and lost touch with why I started planning events in the first place! I knew that I wanted to get back to house parties and events at home, but then of course I had to redecorate! (my house still isn't decorated and nobody cares!) I used to host "Sunday Night Dinner" every week at my house and it ranged from intimate dinners to forty people grabbing food after church and coming over for fellowship. I wanted to get back to hosting dinners, and when two new girlfriends said they were interested in helping, I knew it was the right time!
Hosting a dinner party by yourself can be overwhelming, so I recommend finding a friend to cohost with you! My friends Chandler and Kaitlyn helped make the planning process enjoyable and came in clutch with some amazing recipes! The whole point of this dinner party was to connect with new people; I knew that I wanted to have a "+1" party, and the girls were on board, so we started planning! A +1 (plus one!) party is where you invite a guest and then ask them to bring a guest of their own who you don't know! Chandler and Kaitlyn are also new friends, so we really had 8 strangers around the dinner table for this one! I want you to be able to host your own +1 party so I'm sharing the easyyy steps below, along with some delicious food pics.
1. Find your cohost!
First things first! Figure out who you want by your side! Hopefully it's someone you'll have fun cooking with and who's up for an adventure. Most of all, choose someone who you can count on! No backing out last minute.
2. Plan your guest list.
We started thinking about our guest list and actually had a few revisions based on guest availability, and making our number of guests work with the number of dining chairs I have! Pick your date and time and start inviting! Be flexible because odds are that not everyone on your list will be able to come. Give guests a hard deadline to RSVP. For this dinner, we planned to send out printed invitations but ended up texting an invitation graphic (hint: nobody cared) with details. My personal favorite way to confirm as RSVP is immediately asking them "can you come?" My personal follow-up text is "in or out???" ;) Always works!
3. Plan your menu.
I try to keep things pretty simple, but TURNS OUT that my friend Kaitlyn is an amateur chef, and was super excited to cook for people. For us normal folks, though, keep your menu simple! We went with an Italian theme for our first dinner party, which is usually a crowd-pleaser UNLESS you have a plant-based, non-dairy friend in the group. Yes, yes we did. Pro tip: when inviting 8 strangers to dinner, ask them if they have any dietary restrictions. (ha!) Luckily I had a vague memory of that guest eating at Torchy's Tacos, and asked him specifically if he had restrictions, which he did- thank goodness! He was so gracious and we made a simple pasta dish for him; everyone else actually loved hearing about his experience with plant-based eating, so that ended up being a fun topic of conversation!
4. Food prep and table settings!
I didn't even make place cards! I know, shocking! I was so happy to finally have dining room chairs again, so my main goal was having a spot for everyone at the table! Over the years, I have accumulated white serving dishes, and I love to accent them with fun pieces like bowls or salad plates, so the table settings were fairly simple. We planned to serve dinner family-style from the table, so we didn't need large centerpieces- 3 peonies did the trick! Chandler and Kaitlyn came over early to cook and Kaitlyn made our dessert the night before, so we didn't have to worry about that! Do anything you can in advance- things like setting the table, running the dishwasher, and any cleaning can be done ahead of time so you're not scrambling to finish anything except food.
5. Welcome your guests!
We knew that hosting a completely new group of friends could get awkward, and of course the first person to arrive is always a bit of a struggle- you're probably not ready yet, they're nervous, you're worried about burning the bread....so many things! The conversation started slow, but as everyone arrived, we got more comfortable and once we sat down at the table, everyone was great! I felt fairly comfortable about making small talk flow, but if you're worried about awkward silences, think about having a jar of questions to serve as conversation starters! You don't have to be an extrovert or full of social grace to host a great dinner party!
Tips for next time:
I talked with the girls about what we could do better next time to make people feel more comfortable right away, and starting a "consumption culture" as soon as they walk in the door is on the list! We had mountains of appetizers, but nobody touched them for a good 10 minutes. Maybe they just wanted to make sure that I got all of the photos that I needed- ha! Next time, I'm channeling my Italian roots and they're getting a bite of food or a drink as soon as I open the door! ;)
Be directive! Lay out some rules for the table- make sure everyone knows that if they want more salad, just ASK! Bring the beverages into the dining room to make refills easy so guests don't feel like they're troubling you.
You don't have to have it all together to make it a great experience for you and your guests BUT I'd be lying if I said I didn't want some little dessert forks to add to my table setting! ;)
By the end of the night, guests were exchanging phone numbers and we were planning our next group hangout, so I would say that dinner was a success! Have you ever hosted a +1 dinner party before?! If you're looking for new connections or to expand your circle, this is a great way to do it!